MUSKOGEE — Scott Bates sits at his computer and chases his dream.
Pointing a sensor attached to his NASCAR hat at the screen by tilting his head this way and that, he designs paint schemes for race cars. Even though he already had a couple of his creations used in NASCAR races, he hopes for more.
As the NASCAR season speeds toward its conclusion — only two weekends remain after Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway — dreams are being realized. But for Scott Bates, the chase will go on after the season is over.
This, you see, is more than a job.
It's a lifeline.
Scott has multiple sclerosis, and race car design has given the Muskogee resident a connection to a world beyond his computer screen, a world he can no longer touch.
Scott is a quadriplegic.
The disease that attacks the central nervous system left him without the use of his arms and his legs. Confined to a wheelchair, the once active and agile Marine can only move his head and neck.
“But I'm happy,” Scott said. “I don't sit around and cry all the time. I have my moments of being sad, but they're not very often.
“If I would've never got sick, I would've never learned this.”
He nodded toward his computer screens, his windows on the world.
Scott suspects he had MS for more than two decades before he was diagnosed. While in the Marines, he had heat intolerance. It wasn't continual, but on occasion, a hot shower would leave him sprawled out on the bathroom floor. He even suffered heat stroke once.
Despite that, he didn't think anything was seriously wrong. He felt good way more than he felt bad.
“But I can look back now on it and think, ‘Oh, that wasn't from drinking beer Friday night,'” Scott said.
While serving in the Marines, Scott became a NASCAR fan. It was the mid-80s, and Dale Earnhardt was in his heyday. The Intimidator became Scott's guy.
“Just liked his attitude, his persona,” Scott said.
And when he went to work for a Chevy dealership in Norman — Earnhardt was a Chevy driver — that only made Scott a bigger fan.
Work in the service department became increasing difficult as Scott's health problems returned and became more persistent. He began to have weakness in his legs, and by 2004, he couldn't work anymore.
Finally, he was diagnosed with MS.
He still had the use of all his limbs when he was diagnosed, but he would often stumble and fall. He got to the point where he had to hold onto something to walk.
Eventually, his legs stopped working.
Within a year of starting to use a wheelchair, Scott began having problems with his arms.
Less than five years after diagnosis, he had lost the use of his arms and his legs.
“When my hands went,” Scott said, “I got pretty depressed.”
One of the reasons was that he had just started designing race cars. He stumbled into it while playing a racing video game that had a design-your-own-car feature. The technology on the game was rudimentary, but Scott had found a passion.
He found some advanced software for his computer that would allow him to do more intricate designs. After teaching himself to use the program, he would design the side panels, hood, roof and trunk on a flat surface, then the software would overlay the design on a car and make it three dimensional.
How was he supposed to do any of that work without being able to use a mouse?
“I thought I was in trouble when my hands stopped working,” Scott said.
Scott asked daughter Valerie for help. Along with her husband and two daughters, she moved into Scott and wife Kathy's house several years ago to help with his 24-hour care. He'd tell her what to do with the mouse, and she'd do it.